Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Borkoldoy Range, Southwest Borkoldoy, Piks 4,608m, 4,778m, 4,661m, 4,705m, and Damdjjegs, First Ascents
Southwest Borkoldoy, Piks 4,608m, 4,778m, 4,661 m, 4,705m, and Damdjjegs, first ascents; At Bashi region, first ascents. We traveled to Kyrghzstan in September for a month’s climbing. After a few days acclimatizing in the Ala Archa National Park, we headed for the Borkoldoy, just north of the Kokshaal-Too in the southeast of the country. This proved to be a two-day journey on deteriorating tracks, where we met Pat Littlejohn and members of an ISM expedition. Following their generous advice, we went to a previously unvisited valley in the southwestern corner of the range.
We established base camp, just beyond the valley’s narrow entrance, at 3,300m. Our first day involved climbing a steep ridge above the south side of the valley, which we followed for three hours to a prominent whaleback plateau marked with a distinctive set of gullies in the shape of a chicken’s foot. The flat glaciated plateau led onto a narrow snowy ridge, with a line of sharp peaks linking to the highest summits above the valley.
On this day we were limited to an ascent of the first of these, a sharp peak that we called the Chicken’s Head, marked 4,608m on the map.
Subsequently, we made an advanced base 8km farther up the widening valley at a delightful spot (ca 3,800m) near the foot of the main glaciers. The following day we climbed the distinctive snow peak on the south side of the valley, the main summit on the ridge farther on from the Chicken’s Head. A long, snow slope led to a sting in the tail: a steep snow-covered ice slope (AD) leading to the shapely summit. Our maps gave the height as 4,778m and we named it Hamish’s Peak. There were fantastic views in all directions, especially to the south toward the mountains of the Kokshaal-Too.
The north side of the valley was our next target. While the southern slopes are mainly snow-free and covered with vast piles of scree, the northern slopes are entirely snow-covered, with glaciers spilling down from summit ridges. Steep scree-scrambling (or scree-stumbling) brought us to steep, loose, rocky slopes. These gave two pitches of III to a summit of 4,661m, which we named the Bear’s Paw. From here we had extensive views over the Borkoldoy Range, looking down onto the main wide valley running from the western edge of the range right into the center. We romped along the narrow ridge, ascending steep little summits. At one point, ca 4,500m, we encountered large animal tracks. Their size (as big as size 10 boots) convinced us they were bear tracks. Eventually, Misha, our Russian camp manager, declared he’d had enough of our seemingly insatiable progress, so we made a long scree descent.
The next day we headed up-valley in deteriorating weather to a distinctive long, humpshaped mountain splitting the valley in two, with large glaciers on either side. It turned out to be farther away than we estimated and provided a demanding slog up the ridge and onto the 4,705m summit, where a cairn and large wooden posts clearly revealed we weren’t the first. Puzzled by the size and weight of these posts, we later asked Vladimir Komissarov, who suggested they may have been deposited by the military in the days of border tensions. As they were most likely dropped by helicopter, perhaps we could claim the first ascent on foot.
After a rest day due to heavy snow, we walked into the cwm south of our camp and, crossing to the southeast corner, went up straightforward snow slopes, with a few small crevasses, to a summit named Pik Damdjjegs (4,690m). Clear weather revealed farther peaks and ridges still waiting for ascents. None of the peaks was significantly higher than any other, so the highest is probably be no more than 4,800m. Placing a camp farther up the valley, either on the moraine or on the glacier would give more reasonable days.
Leaving the valley, we moved farther west to the At Bashi Range, making the first full exploration of the gorge and valley above the village of Akalla. Our Russian-built UAZ 4×4 van took us high into the valley, where we placed a camp at 2,885m. However, we underestimated the size of the mountains and failed to put our camp high enough to ascend any of the peaks we were after.
On our first excursion we explored a hanging valley, heading for distinctive sharp summits at its head. Poor snow led to a retreat at 3,780m, after a small slab avalanche gave a clear warning. We will be returning to some unfinished business. The following day we scrambled up the ridge east of our camp, only to find deep snow over large blocks, which limited us to a prominent top at 4,100m. One kilometer farther more distinctive peaks appeared to rise to ca 4,400m.
Attempting to improve our chances, we bivouacked the following night at 3,350m on the far side of the valley, hoping the extra height and an early start would allow us to reach a more satisfying summit. Deceptively large distances and hidden drops took us to an attractive sharp ridge that provided enjoyable scrambling reminiscent of the North Ridge of Tryfan in North Wales. However, fatigue limited progress to a height of ca 4,200m at a prominent top, the ridge continuing to a distinctive summit at ca 4,600m.
We thank Igor Prasolov, Dmitry Sosedov, and Micha Suhorukov from ITMC for their devoted, unstinting support: Dima for ascending his first 4,500m peak, Micha for letting himself be towed along an apparently unending and bear-infested ridge by two crazy English guys, and Igor for his inimitable approach to driving and keeping us safe for the month.
Dave Molesworth and Mark Weeding, U.K.